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The Hebrew Folktale in Premodern Morality Literature

Vered Tohar

Folklore, Jewish Life and Tradition, Jewish Studies

Raphael Patai Series in Jewish Folklore and Anthropology

Printed Paper Cased
Available November 2023
ISBN: 9780814347041
Pages: 176 Size: 6x9
Available November 2023
ISBN: 9780814350829
Pages: 176 Size: 6x9
Available November 2023
ISBN: 9780814347058

This pioneering exploration shows that in the early modern world, printed works on morality and ethics served as an important conveyor of classic Jewish folktales and as an important channel of leisure reading in premodern Jewish culture. Utilizing a corpus of over 400 Musar tales, author Vered Tohar carefully opens a path to understand the thematic and poetic features of those tales. This innovative reframing of early modern Musar texts reveals a new history of Jewish folklore and emphasizes the continuity of Hebrew literature from medieval to modern era. Tohar classifies these stories, which she calls "the Musar folktales," into four genres adapted from classic poetic studies: tragedy, comedy, parable or social exemplum, and theological allegory. As parables of vice and virtue, the works featured here were originally printed and circulated in early modern Jewish communities, and each contained themes of love and hate, good and evil, loyalty and betrayal, or life and death. Beyond their traditional function of ethical and moral edification, Tohar advances the Musar texts as an archive of Hebrew tales and their ideological traditions. This innovative reframing of early modern Musar texts reveals a new history of Jewish folklore and a new way to read those texts.

Vered Tohar is a researcher, author, editor, and poet with special interests in the diachronic aspects and reception of Hebrew literature and folktales. She is a faculty member in the Department of Literature of the Jewish People at Bar-Ilan University. She has previously published works in the fields of Jewish studies, Jewish folklore, the Hebrew book, Hebrew literature, and Hebrew literature for children and youth.

Vered Tohar has written a rich and highly innovative book, defining and translating into English a corpus of Hebrew folktales found in musar (ethical) Hebrew literature.She connects these texts to central modes of thought and conduct in Jewish life, illuminating them for an international community of scholars.

– Chanita Goodblatt, professor, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

This pioneering and fascinating book is a must for both scholars and students of Jewish studies and folklore. The Hebrew Folktale in Premodern Morality Literature provides a unique point of entry to a significant selection of tales embedded in printed musar books, which has never before been addressed by scholars as a distinct corpus. In her book, Vered Tohar explores the features and functions of these tales as musar texts targeted to convey to their readers familiar and traditional matters in the most appealing way to reaffirm a cultural ethos. Based on a solid methodology—genre theories, comparative studies of motifs, and semiotic interpretations of tropes and symbols, as well as on analytical readings of the tales—Tohar arrives at a surprising and unexpected hypothesis as to processes and techniques of utilizing them in both spheres of folklore and ethic literature.

– Rella Kushelevsky, professor emerita, Bar-Ilan University